In the world of business, projects serve as the driving force behind organisational change and the introduction of the products to the market. Sustainability, of course, is our commitment to meeting our needs, such as our energy and consumption needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. As we grapple with the realisation that finite resources like oil and gas cannot sustain our growing population ( , we find ourselves at a critical juncture. While sustainable energy sources are emerging, they still fall short of meeting our current energy demands. It’s not just about sustainable energy though, is it?
Sustainability encompasses more than just energy – it also encompasses sustainable food sources, a sustainable environment, thriving biodiversity, minimal waste, reduced pollution, and emissions; we need to strive for sustainable societies where every individual has their essential human needs met, including safe water, healthcare, education, and security. Sustainability is even reaching the world of fashion,
Different organisations around the world prioritise different aspects of sustainability, for example:
- The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Environmental Protection agencies (EPA) focus on environmental sustainability
- The World Trade Organisation (WTO), United Nations (UN) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) focus primarily on economic growth
- The OECD does dedicate some attention to social sustainability, such as war reduction and promotion of justice
- The United Nation has identified 17 sustainability goals which aim to strengthen all 3 pillars of sustainability: Environment, Economic and Social.
Achieving true sustainability will require trade-offs. We must shift our focus from short-term wins to long-term planning and investment in sustainable solutions. Our approach should be more interconnected, recognising the world, countries, and organisations as interconnected systems.
Both sustainability and projects share a common goal: to bring benefits and value to stakeholders. Projects explicitly support sustainability when they incorporate one or more sustainability goals into their objectives.
So, how can we view projects as a ‘secret weapon’ for sustainability?
All projects come with specific targets for delivery and are bound by constraints. The concept of the triple constraint of Time, Cost and Scope/Quality isn’t new. Project managers are accustomed to identifying and understanding key project drivers and making inevitable trade-offs between the different targets.
The globally recognised PRINCE2. The most recent upgrade of the method to version 7, which came into force Summer 2023, now integrates sustainability as a new performance target, aligning with the UN’s 17 sustainability goals.
It’s not just PRINCE2®. Many project management models now recognise the importance of sustainability. The inclusion of sustainability in these important qualifications highlights the growing importance of sustainability for the project agenda.
Organisations stand to gain several benefits by incorporating sustainability into their project management practices, such as:
- Increased efficiency and optimised resource utilisation, resulting in reduced costs and minimised waste
- Enhanced organisational reputation and increased stakeholder satisfaction
- Fostering innovation and creativity
- Delivering positive environmental outcomes for the greater good
In summary, the issue of project sustainability is certainly gaining ground. Whilst some projects overtly champion sustainability goals, sustainability is also making it’s mark more subtly. The emergence of a new concept, ‘Project Sustainability Management’ is designed to integrate sustainable development and project objectives into every project for the greater good.